The first thing we see is a maggot wriggling on the end of a hook, and behind it, the grinning face of Smeagol (Serkis). It's a typically incisive piece of picture-making and storytelling, taking us back before The Fellowship to a time of supposed innocence and the moment of corruption - the rediscovery of the ring on the river bed. What follows may be the longest climax in film history: more than three hours of mad kings, massing troops, battle cries and ballyhoo. In terms of spectacle, there's nothing like it. Jackson has weight of numbers on his side. But for the first time in this mammoth undertaking, the director seems overwhelmed by logistics - and if he isn't, we are. Return of the King is no less dynamic than the previous chapters, but too much of the dialogue sounds like an orientation exercise. Some story strands are crudely abbreviated; others fail to develop elements that were already well-established. Given the inordinate running time, it's hard to avoid the feeling that we've already been here, done this. As to how the trilogy's themes of leadership, self-sacrifice, loyalty and honour speak to our own troubling times, Tolkien's anti-fascist allegory doesn't allow for ambivalence or ambiguity.